By Rebecca Drew
AN ALLERGIC reaction put this woman into SEPTIC SHOCK with just a NINE PER CENT chance of survival – but now she’s living life to the full as a QUADRUPLE AMPUTEE after her limbs turned BLACK.
Mentor and speaker, Kim Gilliam Steele (53) who lives in Monticello, Georgia, USA, was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease in August 1992 which has been monitored by doctors throughout her life.
After a colonoscopy showed spots on her colon, Kim was prescribed a type of chemotherapy medication called MP6/Mercaptopurine on May 9, 2016, to see if her condition might improve without having to have a colostomy.
Within a few days Kim started to experience strange symptoms; she had no energy, couldn’t eat, was vomiting, had a fever, was slurring her words and her mouth was persistently dry despite how much she drank. Then on May 14, Kim’s symptoms escalated when her tongue swelled and she couldn’t breathe, walk or stay coherent.
Worried, Kim’s ex-husband, Todd, drove her to A&E as it was clear she was having a severe allergic reaction. Within 30 minutes of arriving at the hospital, Kim coded three times and was intubated and put into a coma, her liver and kidneys had started to fail, and she was in septic shock. Her family were told that she had just a nine per cent chance of surviving the night.
Kim’s sepsis was treated with antibiotics and IV fluids and pressers were used to keep the blood flow to her heart to keep her alive. When Kim came out of her coma on May 18, she had no idea what had happened to her but knew something was wrong when she saw her hands were black.
Kim’s hands and legs had turned black when her blood supply stopped pumping to her extremities. Her limbs couldn’t be saved, and she had both hands amputated at the wrist on July 6, 2016, and became a quadruple amputee on November 15, 2016, when her legs were amputated below the knee. After 296 days in hospital and rehabilitation facilities, Kim was discharged on February 3, 2017.
Adjusting to life without hands or legs was difficult at first but Kim has adapted to her new life and worked relentlessly to take her first steps with prosthetic legs on December 28, 2016. Since then, Kim has gone from strength to strength, she’s zip lined, gone sky diving and snorkelled – she lives everyday as if it is her last and wants to show others that if she can go outside of her comfort zone, anyone can.
“My doctor prescribed to me MP6/Mercaptopurine. I started having no energy, no appetite and just not feeling well,” said Kim.
“After a few days I started getting weaker and weaker. I couldn’t eat, I was vomiting and started running a fever. My mouth was staying so dry that I could not get enough to drink. My sister called and while we were talking she asked why I was slurring.
“It was early morning on May 14, I couldn’t get comfortable, so my ex-husband and I went to sit in the den and he got me popsicles because my throat was dry. My ex-husband went outside for a few minutes and when he came back in I could hardly talk because my tongue was swollen and I was having trouble breathing and became incoherent.
“I couldn’t walk so he had to pick me up and carry me to the car. Finally after taking it for four days it was clear I was having a toxic reaction to it. He then rushed me to the ER at Piedmont Henry Hospital. When I got to the ER, I remember them taking me straight back to a room.
“I coded three times within thirty minutes after arriving to the ER. I was then intubated because of my trouble of breathing. I was given a less than nine per cent chance of survival. My family was told by the doctors that they needed to say their goodbyes because I wouldn’t make it through the night.
“My liver and kidneys started to fail and I had septic shock. I was unsure what was going on. I knew if I closed my eyes I would probably never wake up again.
“When I did wake up, I had no idea what had happened. I saw that my hands were black but I wasn’t told about my legs until later.
“They didn’t want it to set me back and me down spiral. I was staying in and out of consciousness and I was given much information about my situation. I knew something was very wrong and my hands looked like I had been in a fire. I was just thankful to be alive.
“When my family explained to me what was going to happen, I cried. I knew my life as I had known it would never be the same. I just knew that I would always have to have someone care for me where I had always been the caregiver. I became severely depressed and asked why I didn’t just die. I couldn’t do anything for myself anymore.”
After her hands were amputated, Kim was fitted with myoelectrical hooks and BeBionic myoelectric hands in September 2016 which once she got the hang of how to use, she felt normal again.
Adjusting to life without legs was much harder.
“The day finally came, and the doctor told me that my legs had healed all they were going to heal. He told me he had tried to save one of my feet but unfortunately he wasn’t going to be able to and I would lose my legs below the knee,” said Kim.
“My surgery was then scheduled. The morning of November 15, 2016, I arrived back to the hospital to become a quadruple amputee. I was scared to death. I was so afraid that something would go wrong and I wouldn’t wake back up.
“They couldn’t get my pain under control. It was horrible. My hospital stay became longer because of it and I had to wait longer before I could go back to rehab. I felt so embarrassed and ashamed because I couldn’t go to the bathroom on my own or do anything.
“I was finally released to the rehabilitation hospital and I knew my work was in store for me. If I was going to be able to walk again I was going to have to dig deep. I finally started seeing a counsellor to help with what I was feeling.
“I started therapy for both using my new hands and also preparing for the day I would be fitted for my prosthetic legs. I arrived there on November 28, 2016. I thought I was literally going to die. I had never worked out so hard. My therapist made me do so many exercises to get my upper body prepared and my legs prepared for the day that I would possibly take my first steps.
“I did everything she asked me to without hesitation. I learned to use my prosthetic hands to learn how to cook again, wash my clothes, pick up things, hang my clothes, put my makeup on, write and bathe myself. They wanted to try and have me walk before I left the rehabilitation hospital so they decided on the types of prosthetics that could be used without my residual limbs being healed completely.
“The prosthetist came and cast my legs. I continued my daily workouts. My test sockets were ready and they scheduled the day that after being off my legs for almost a year, I would hopefully take my first steps.
“I couldn’t sleep that night because of the anticipation of what this day was going to mean. The time came and we put them on. I felt so many emotions. Everyone was there in the therapy room that day. The nurses, the doctors and other patients. You could have heard a pin drop.
“Everyone was focused on me. I stood up with a person on each side. I was asked to take my first steps and I did on December 28, 2016. I cried tears of joy and so did everyone in there.”
Kim is proud of her journey and spreading awareness of sepsis and her story with others brings her so much joy.
Despite all she has been through and divorcing from her husband in February 2017, Kim is the happiest she has ever been.
“This has made me stronger and I love sharing my story and helping others. I love spreading sepsis awareness. I love being the light for others when my situation happens to someone else,” she said.
“I no longer let the stares bother me. Kids love seeing me because I’m like the bionic woman. I’m happier than I have ever been and it flows through me. I feel this is the life I was meant to live and will continue sharing my experiences and knowledge with the world.
“I want to share my story of surviving sepsis to hopefully save the lives of someone else. I advocate for others. I have become a certified peer visitor with The Amputee Coalition and Hanger. I volunteer at rehab centres and I’m now working on doing presentations at hospitals for sepsis awareness.
“Even though we have faced tragedy it doesn’t mean our life is over. I live life now like it is my last and I go out of my comfort zone to prove it can be done. If people can look at me and see how strong and confident I am and how my positivity exudes through me then they most definitely can do it too.
“I now live on my own and take care of myself. I also drive a regular vehicle with no adaptive equipment.
“Educate yourself of the signs and symptoms of sepsis and don’t wait until it is too late. We have to fight to save lives and limbs. The challenge is to make sure that everyone in the healthcare system understands how to recognise the key symptoms and responds.
“We all have the strength and resilience to appreciate what we have and who we are. Each one of us has the strength and determination to succeed. I am not what happened to me but what I have become.”
For more information see www.instagram.com/kimgilliam47